New Castle News

July 27, 2013

Celebrity Series keeps audiences coming back for more

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — For decades, the Westminster College Celebrity Series has charmed, informed and entertained audiences — first students, then the community.

Although the format has changed since its inaugural season in 1967, the quality and variety of shows continued to evolve, luring thousands of people to Orr Auditorium each season.

Connie McGinnis, director of the series, is pleased with the 2013-14 lineup that features top recording artists from different decades along with some new performers.

“When people come for the first time, they express surprise by the quality of what they see,” said McGinnis, who served as box office manager and was assistant director to Eugene DeCaprio before taking over as director in 2010.

DeCaprio served as director for 22 years.

He said the Celebrity Series began as a three-part program for Westminster College students. It included the screening of foreign films, lectures and classical performances.

But celebrities and personalities have taken part almost from the start.

Comedian Red Skelton, newscaster Dan Rather and conservative author and commentator William F. Buckley Jr. were there. Actor Emlyn Williams read the works of Charles Dickens to students.

DeCaprio said the series stopped showing films in favor of more classical performances such as opera, dance and plays.

As is grew more popular with the community, the audience grew in number, even as fewer students attended. The series became most popular when recognizable performers came.

Singer Mel Torme, jazz pianist George Shearing, the Stan Kenton Orchestra, comedian Bill Cosby, singers Anne Murray and Paul Anka, and radio and television personality Regis Philbin inspired ticket buyers to fill the auditorium. More than 75 percent of the audience comes from Lawrence and Mercer counties along with Mahoning County in eastern Ohio.

Because of the series, Westminster College was recognized throughout the state as a cultural center.

Former governor Mark Schweiker announced the presentation of a $1.7 million grant to keep the program going.

Some of the monies were used for purchase and installation of 1,700 new seats and air conditioning for the auditorium and purchasing state-of-the-art sound equipment.

It’s a very intimate theater with a good view from every seat,” McGinnis said.

“We sold out shows for years, but our audience was aging,” DeCaprio noted.

He praised McGinnis for leading the Celebrity Series into a new era with shows that appeal to younger people as well baby boomers.

“Connie knows show business and how to market it to the community,” said DeCaprio. “But most important, she has genuine enthusiasm for the Celebrity Series.”

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)